Think of three of your favourite books. What is it about them that makes them so? Is it the quirkiness of a character? The depth of the moral argument explored in this story? Perhaps it’s the setting? The convoluted plot? Or is it the writer’s use of language, the way he or she created sentences that are so beautiful, so filmic you can practically see what is being described?
Though there is no doubt that what one considers a ‘good’ story is very subjective, the reason or combination of reasons that made up what you considered to be a ‘good’ story probably had the following characteristics:
It was an original idea, or an old idea told in a new way – such as Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls, shortlisted for the U.K’s Women’s Prize for Fiction 2019. It’s a brilliant retelling of The Iliad, this time focusing on Briseis, Achilles’ concubine, and the cost of war on women at a time when they were only considered collateral damage.
It had impact. It was a story that stayed with you for a long time, and you probably already have, or will, re-read it.
It made you think, perhaps about issues you’d never thought about before, or it may even have made you re-think old ideas in a new way. Think of the novels of Charles Dickens – though now seen as being highly sentimental and with idealised characters, in its time stories such as Oliver Twist challenged Victorian society’s pretence that it was unaware of the extent of poverty in Victorian England. Since first published in serial form in 1837 to 1839, this story has been adapted for film, theatre and television more than 25 times, the latest in 2020, being Twist – a British drama directed by Martin Owen.
It was entertaining. Whether you prefer the wit, satire and keen analysis of society found in the novels of Jane Austin, the grim dystopian future of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, or the philosophical musings of J.M. Coetzee, those books had the ability to grasp your attention and temporarily make the real world disappear.
It rang true. Though you were aware that this was fiction, still the characters were so well developed that they almost became people you knew in real life, and you were able to empathise with their thoughts and feelings.
But these things didn’t just happen. For a story to be considered ‘good’, all the various elements of the story had to come together as a whole – elements such as theme, plot, structure, characters, tone, setting and style. A ‘good’ story is a well organised piece of writing that has clarity and focus, has a unique and identifiable voice, has interesting characters and well-crafted sentences, and is emotionally inspiring or thought-provoking. Putting these elements together effectively requires thoughtful consideration, as well as knowledge and practice, and I will be talking about these in future individual posts.
As I said previously, what makes a book ‘good’ is very subjective, and when I think of the books I’ve truly enjoyed over the years, I find my tastes changing, perhaps because of age, or personal circumstances, or simply because the world too is constantly changing, though there are some I think I will never tire of. I have enjoyed [and yes, re-read] an eclectic number of books such as Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, McCarthy’s The Road, Colleen McCullough’s The Thorn Birds, Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, Neil Gaimen’s Neverwhere, Carlos Zafón’s The Shadow of the Wind, A.S. Patric’s Atlantic Black, Philippa Gregory’s Tideland, and many many more. As you can see – a wide variety of styles, genres and topics. But what about you? What are your favourite books?#readinglife #bookworm #goodbooks